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AI’s revolutionary role in healthcare

Experts debate the pros and cons of artificial intelligence, which is changing many aspects of patient care

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The AAHC Thought Leadership Institute panel (left to right): Nicholas Fisk, PhD (University of New South Wales); Yentram Huyen, PhD (Intel); Richard Shannon, MD (University of Virginia) and Brad Fenwick, DVM, PhD (Elsevier). The panel was moderated by AAHC President and CEO Steve Wartman, MD, PhD.

From wearable technology for patients to technology that assists doctors with surgery, artificial intelligence is already a key player in medicine. At Elsevier, our technologists apply AI machine learning algorithms to vast amounts of data, enabling adaptive technologies that “learn” from the user to provide a personalized experience. For example, in nursing and medical assisting education, Sherpath tracks students’ interactions with assessments and simulations to customize their experience based on their understanding and learning style.

With overall artificial intelligence (AI) market growth projected to reach $16.6 billion over the next six years at a compound annual growth rate of 63 percent, this sector is having a major impact on the healthcare industry, sparking changes in augmented clinical work, customer service and predictive analytics, among other areas.

What does this mean for patient care? What does it mean for our caregivers when we are sick?

Experts at the Association of Academic Health Center’s annual Global Issues Forum in Washington, DC, tackled the challenges and opportunities of technology in 21st-century healthcare. Those on both sides of the issue agreed that technology is revolutionizing patient care and will continue to do so at an accelerating rate.

The panel on AI in healthcare was hosted by the AAHC Thought Leadership Institute. Participants were Dr. Nicholas Fisk, Deputy Vice Chancellor (Research) at University of New South Wales; Dr. Yentram Huyen, General Manager, Genomics & Data Exchange, Health & Life Sciences, Intel Corp; Dr. Richard Shannon, Executive VP, Health Affairs, University of Virginia; and Dr. Brad Fenwick, Senior VP of Global Academic & Research Relations at Elsevier. Dr. Steven Wartman, AAHC President and CEO, moderated the panel.

The changing role of the physician

The discussion centered on the changing role of physicians as we move into the future of data-enabled technology application, especially AI in healthcare delivery. How the various healthcare delivery and funding systems in place globally will be impacted by this evolution was an important consideration.

“As with other industries,” Dr. Fenwick said, “big data and predictive analytics, along with the democratization of medicine, is likely to provide direct access to medicine for the patient without the physician being the gatekeeper.”

Dr. Fenwick used the example of auto-pilot features in the airline industry. Pilots are necessary only when technology fails, but their presence makes passengers feel safe. “The riskiest element in all of these systems, whether the airline or healthcare industry, is the person involved,” he explained. “It’s time to disrupt the system.”

Agreeing with Dr. Fenwick, Dr. Fisk added: “The average doctor makes 64 errors per month. The augmented, or technology-assisted, clinician will drive huge improvements in quality and safety. Augmented clinicians will affect patients through everything they do, from diagnosis to intelligent surgery and treatment.”

Dr. Shannon took a nuanced opposing view, arguing that “no matter how good the technology is, you won’t be able to manage long-term, chronic conditions without the care of a physician.”

Participants agreed that augmented clinical service will positively impact intelligent surgery, quick diagnosis and treatment, helping physicians better understand people in context of their entire medical history and genetic sequencing.

What do medical students need to learn?

Moderator Steve Wartman, MD, PhD, talks about what skills he would emphasize if he were to "design a medical school from scratch."

Panelists discussed the importance of teaching medical students how to work alongside AI. “At UVA, we’re testing analytical skills and information processing,” Dr. Shannon said. “We need to teach students how to learn – 60 percent of kids at universities are going to be doing jobs that don’t currently exist in the market. American medical colleges have a responsibility to not only teach students these skills, but to provide the research that will innovate technology.”

Dr. Wartman added: “If I were to design a medical school from scratch, I would emphasize, in addition to basic knowledge, machine and team management, mathematical and statistical skills, and, most importantly, compassion. Students need to learn the art of ’suffering with the patient.’”

Dr. Fenwick stressed the importance of looking ahead, saying: “New technology will be much less disruptive if we actively prepare the next generation.”

Technology for patients

Discussing the responsibility AI developers have in the healthcare industry, Dr. Fenwick said, “Technology not only will change healthcare delivery; it has the potential to drive an equally significant positive change in patient behavior.”

With the advent of wearable fitness technology, Dr. Fenwick pointed to Fitbit’s effect on users and potential software pitfalls. Researchers at the Cleveland Clinic tested several wrist-worn fitness trackers and determined that “the old-fashioned chest strap monitor is best” when accurately gauging heart rate.

Along with their positive impact, FitBits and other wearables can also have negative issues. Users were conflicted when they forgot to wear them and were nagged by a feeling of frustration that their steps and other activities weren’t being counted.

“It’s critical that technology is beta-tested with healthcare providers for effectiveness before being sent to market,” Dr. Fenwick said.

Bringing healthcare to rural areas

Dr. Shannon also discussed AI’s impact on availability and reach of healthcare to rural areas, using drug use in Virginia as an example: “Use of the telemedicine network is a benefit over training psychiatrists when it comes to treating patients with a drug issue – it is cost-effective and takes much less time to diagnose and treat patients.”

According to Stanford Medicine’s rural health practice, fewer than 10 percent of physicians practice in rural communities, even though these areas contain about 20 percent of America’s population. Since fewer hospitals and care centers are in rural areas, response times by emergency medical personnel are likewise greater. Given this data, researchers are looking to AI in the healthcare industry to help solve these challenges.

Those in rural areas can also benefit from the decentralized model of data-sharing that AI encourages. “Health centers should collaborate on the data, enabling an idea of federated data analytics,” Dr. Yentram said. “It is critical to break down the information silos. We have to think about how we’re going to collaborate and share the data to form (healthcare) partnerships.”

Audience members suggest pros and cons of AI

Audience members offered pros and cons to both sides of the debate on AI’s role in a wide-ranging discussion. Participants asked questions about the return on investment of electronic medical records, the role of technology in ridding the world of sanitary problems and thinking beyond “large-scale” change to the small-scale, decentralized efforts that can build.

About AAHC and AAHCI

The Association of Academic Health Centers (AAHC) — with its subsidiary the Association of Academic Health Centers International (AAHCI) — is a nonprofit organization that advances health and well-being through the vigorous leadership of academic health centers worldwide. AAHC and AAHCI strive to achieve this by enhancing the ability of its members to educate the next generation of health professionals, conduct biomedical research, and provide comprehensive and advanced patient care. AAHC believes that improving the health and wellbeing of communities, both locally and globally, depends on the continuous advancement, alignment, and optimization of each element of this three-part mission.

Elsevier is a sponsor of the AAHC Thought Leadership Institute, which focuses on issues impacting academic health centers.

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